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By Lord (David) Owen

David Owen is a former British foreign minister.

LONDON -- There is a logical sequence of events that needs to be understood for countering international terrorism. There will not be stability in the Middle East until the United States puts considerable pressure on both sides for a permanent Palestinian-Israeli settlement. It will be difficult for America to do since so many of its population fervently support the Israeli cause. No U.S. administration of any political hue can put such pressure on Israel while the Israelis legitimately fear Iraqi missile attacks and Iranian destabilization through sponsored terror and the transfer of weapons. But the Iranian people will not choose the moderate Khatami reforming wing and, in the process of their own self-choice, defeat the Khomeini clerical reactionary wing until they see the United States enforce a regime change in Iraq.

Now we face a very grave challenge to British diplomacy -- the chief ally of the United States in this war. When Secretary of State Colin Powell, acknowledged to be, if these words mean much, a moderate or dove in the Bush administration, can tell Congress, as he did a few days ago, about the need for a "regime change'' in Iraq, which the United States "might have to do alone,'' he thinks there is a real chance that Britain might on this occasion stand aside from any action. Britain has been with the United States right from the moment when the Iraqi forces went into Kuwait, in 1990, and with them when we planned for and put troops on the ground in 1991 and with them all through some of the failed policies toward Iraq in enforcing the no-fly zone in the north, which protected the Kurds and also the Marsh Arabs in the south and which has risked the lives of our airmen together with those of the United States.

For Britain, whose prime minister said to the United States after Sept. 11 that we were first in and would be last out in its fight against international terrorism, the consequences of stepping aside from action to change the regime in Iraq would be devastating to our international credibility. We would look like a beached whale, pretentious and overblown.

Unlike our differences over Vietnam, where opinion was deeply divided within the United States, over Iraq, America is remarkably united on the need to do something about Saddam Hussein. The military risks are obvious, but the political gains are also clear cut. Americans are ready to take casualties in what they rightly believe is preventive action which, once done, will be widely supported by public opinion in all the countries in the Middle East. We cannot expect exposed governments to champion such an unpopular cause but have no doubt that there will be the same rejoicing as there was in the streets of Kabul when the Taliban regime was overthrown.

It is hard to exaggerate the consequences for the United Kingdom if we were to step out of our geo-strategic alliance with the United States and fail to participate in military action if the U.N. weapons inspectors are not granted the unfettered right to conduct searches throughout Iraq. The inspectors were put in by U.N. resolution after the complete defeat of the Iraqi forces, and it was specifically stated that inspectors would have the right to track down and remove suspect weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, biological and chemical. Iraq has used gas against its own people and against Iranian troops. Iraq has put biological weapons on its warheads, though fortunately they were not on the missiles Iraq fired against Tel Aviv during the Gulf War.

I turn to Iran. I don't share the view that Iran's record in recent months has been wholly bad. There have been some welcome signs of cooperation in relation to Afghanistan. It did help in the Bonn conference, which established the concept of a coalition form of government. It did help in getting Ismail Khan, who was someone it had previously supported, into the frame of mind to accept the governorship of Herat province and not the other four Afghan provinces that he wanted. It did help persuade Burhanuddin Rabbani, the U.N.-accepted president, from coming back to Kabul with armed forces, when everybody knew that this would not provide a measure of consensus in Afghanistan. Though those are good signs, Iran still continues to destabilize the Middle East, to support Hezbollah, to conduct training camps, to supply arms (as we saw with the ship with weapons for Palestinians that was stopped by Israel).

Those critics in Europe of President George Bush's "axis of evil'' speech would do well to remember that there are millions of people in Iraq, Iran and North Korea who will recognize that description just as there were many liberal-minded people only too delighted to hear President Ronald Reagan call Soviet communism an "evil empire.''

(c) 2002, European Viewpoint/El Pais. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

For immediate release (Distributed 2/19/02)

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